Opinion

Forget millennials, forget Gen Z… In fact, let’s forget generational marketing altogether

Jeremy Willmott, creative director at Paper Moose, argues that demographic data can be problematic, and brands and marketers should dump generational marketing completely.

I recently read an article titled, something along the lines of, “Forget Gen Z, marketers need to set their sights on Gen Alpha” and it got me thinking just how useless it is to think in terms of generations. But where has this concept of generational marketing come from?

It was the massive social change of the 1940s that saw less young people going out to work and led to the beginning of what was dubbed ‘youth culture’. This meant there was suddenly a new generation of consumers that brands could sell to, an attractive proposition indeed. But as this generation moved into a different life stage, marketers found themselves needing a new generation to sell to and with it the need to redefine this generation every fifteen or so years.

Thus the notion of generational marketing was born. It may have served a purpose at the time but segmentation like this nowadays just feels kinda lazy.

I was born in 1975 which makes me Gen X, a.k.a. The Slacker Generation. No one talks about Generation X though. It’s like we slipped through the system despite being at the peak of our careers and skirting the ceiling of our salaries. We’ve seemingly shunned the poor Millennials too in favour of Gen Z, the hallowed generation who will be fixing the world’s problems, creating a brighter future and (hopefully) buying more Hellmann’s mayonnaise*.

Source: Wikipedia

I’m actually a Xennial, a micro-generation who grew up during a time of rapid technology change (LPs, to tapes, to MiniDiscs, to CDs for example) making us better at adopting new tech today. The problem with this portmanteau is that it’s only true for some people, basically the ones who liked and engaged with technology at the time. I know plenty of people my age who are rubbish at adopting new tech and are resistant to change.

In my marketer’s brain Millennials and Gen Z are great at social media. And it’s true many are. But, as last year’s stint as an AWARD School tutor taught me, social media briefs are tough and often the most challenging. Just because you grew up with social media and use it all the time doesn’t make you an expert at it. So, when I see a generation in a brief it just feels shortsighted. It’s used as a shorthand for ‘cool’ or ‘vibey’ and goes nowhere in unpicking who the target audience actually is.

And yet I find demographic data cropping up in client briefs all the time.

BAD CREATIVE BRIEF

It’s not because I hail from the UK that I don’t understand what ‘everyday Australian Millennials’ means, it’s that it’s a useless statement for my creative brain. You’re essentially asking me to try and speak to every single person in this country aged 28 to 43.

Thankfully the wonderful strategy team here at Paper Moose do a cracking job at writing a ‘reverse brief’ to translate client speak into something that’s more useful for our creative process. In fact, we’ve adopted Julian Cole’s GET/WHO/TO/BY methodology into our creative briefs as a way to encourage a single-minded approach to brief writing, and it works a treat when done right.

BETTER CREATIVE BRIEF

‘Burger loving foodies’… now you’re talking my language. I instantly have an image in mind, a type of person this might be. There’s a story here and it makes me want to jump into their world, to scour their Instagram posts, to hear their words on TikTok, to check out the best burger joints they hang out in. Heck I wanna go all Jeremy Strong method acting on your brief and embody this person. Or at least do a few Google searches. My point is there’s more to this line by describing behaviour than there is in outlining demographics.

Here’s why demographic data can be problematic.

I’m a white man born in the UK in 1948.

I’m extremely wealthy and live in a castle.

I’ve been married twice.

Who am I?

If you said King Charles you’d be right. But if you’d said Ozzy Osbourne you’d also be right and the two couldn’t be further apart.

I’m by no means the first person to talk about this issue. In fact, Mark Ritson makes a similar point.

“Claiming that your target segment is the 18- to 35-year-old female is about as impressive as saying you will only target Librans with your new campaign.”

Take Baby Boomers, they’re the post war generation that tore down an establishment, gave birth to the hippie movement and brought about women’s liberation. In their 20s they were lefties changing the world but now in their 70s they’re right leaning and happy with the status quo. Right? Well yes for some but you can’t lump an entire generation into this one bucket. The human race doesn’t evolve every 15 years as a new generation is born. If a Boomer was born today they’d be posting on TikTok and building worlds in Minecraft like the next Zoomer. Because, us humans, we’re adaptable like that.

So where to next? We have to work with our clients to help shape their briefs. We must demand more audience research be carried out. We need to be in the weeds figuring out who these people are, which channels they engage in, how they behave. Because, by doing so, we’ll be earning their trust and creating work that shows we really get them.

Written by Jeremy Willmott, a 45–55 year old, white collar, (new-ish) Australian male.

* Disclaimer: Hellmann’s are not one of our clients, I just love this Victoria Wood sketch.

Jeremy Willmott is creative director at Paper Moose.

ADVERTISEMENT

Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.

 

SUBSCRIBE

Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.